Friday, 15 May 2009

Talking to pre-school staff

As many of you will know, I’m not the most pro-active person in putting myself forward and speaking up. This seems to follow through to talking to playgroup leaders and nursery school staff. I can manage the quick drop-off ‘notes’, such as ‘She didn’t sleep well last night, so might be a bit grumpy.’ ‘I’ve packed two changes of clothes, just in case.’ ‘My mum will be dropping her off, tomorrow.’ But I find it difficult to ask questions about how she’s doing or tell them about her progress at home.

It seems that children can often behave quite differently in pre-school and school to at home. A talkative energetic child can be almost silent at pre-school. A quiet, sensitive child can run around and be boisterous in the different environment. And frequently our children don’t show their genius at school, only to us. (Though perhaps that’s down to our perceptions!) I know children who can read fluently at home and do pages and pages of sums, but their teachers have no idea and send them home with books way below their level. And, of course, there are children who need extra help with certain tasks, but their teachers don’t know about it or are not fully aware of the best way to help them.

So how do we impart the necessary information? How do we find out what we need to find out? Rosemary’s playgroup has something called Wow vouchers, on which you can write when they’ve done something momentous at home to put in their folder at playgroup. And you’re supposed to be able to look at the folder any time. (I don’t actually know where the folder is, but I’m sure I could find out, easily.)

The staff are very approachable at both places, but the problem is time. Everyone wants to talk to them at drop-off and pick-up. You can usually get in a quick mention of essential information, but there’s no time to have a full-on discussion about anything. Chris often mentions things at pick-up, some of which is taken on board, but much of which seems not to be.

What I think I would like is a parents’ evening, like you get at school, with the opportunity to have a proper talk about everything, not a rushed conversation where you are both trying to make yourself heard over the shouts and screams of small children.

Do any of you have strategies for information exchange with pre-school staff? Do you use the Wow vouchers, or equivalent? Is there anything that you’d like to talk about, but can’t manage to?


  1. We have parent's evenings at the nursery my kids go/went to. Unfortnatly we've never actually gone to one due them always seeming to schedule them when we're on holiday for some reason.

  2. We too have parents evenings at Nursery, even though she is only one.

    Isobel always seems to do things first at home (which I am so glad about)and I'm lucky, because it's nursery I always arrive slightly earlier than most parents so I get time for a natter.

    Otherwise she has a book they write in every day, food, sleeps, nappies and what she has ben doing. Sometimes I take this home and I can write messages in it too.

    But, I love the idea of the Wow vouchers, although as an over proud mum I'd probably write enough to papaer the walls with!

  3. The whole preschool situation is a bit of a mare. I am lucky, JD goes to a Montessori and they do allow parents to join their child for 1 hour in the classroom once every 6 months. It was frankly amazing to see JD in action. The things he can do!!! He hasn't demonstrated any of that aptitude at home. Guess it reflects how much I let him get away with because he is the 'baby'. Afterwards, you get a chance to see all their work and talk to the teacher. It is really great. I love the idea of the Wow vouchers tho. But it doesn't replace a chance for a proper 1-2-1 with a teacher tho, does it?

  4. Dan: I would like a parents' evening, I think. Or some kind of more formal feedback mechanism, so it wasn't left to me to talk up. Shame you've never been to one!

    Surprised: My sister used to work in a nursery and it seems that there is much more effort to feeding back to parents what they are doing at that age than at pre-school age. They also had books or day sheets to write everything on.

    It's good that Isobel saves most of her new things up for you. Rosemary did that too, when my mum looked after her. It's one of those things you worry about, when leaving them with other people, whether you're going to miss all their firsts.

    Nicola: I know quite a few people in America who swear by Montessori. Seems to be a very good opportunity over there. Interesting that you see it the other way round - JD doing things there that he doesn't do at home. I think I'm going to pick up a bunch of the WOW vouchers next week (saw where they are yesterday). But, no, it doesn't replace the one-on-one talks. I may swap with Chris occasionally and do the pick-up, as there seems to be more opportunity to hang around and discuss things then.

  5. I just ask my daughter's key worker for an appointment to discuss her progress. I've never been refused.

    Our pre-school group hand out a form to the parents at the start of each term, asking lots of questions about what you child can/can't do & their likes/dislikes etc. Then they compare that to what the child does in the group. The results are given back to the parents. I like this practice.

  6. Well, that's sensible and logical! Which is probably why I've never tried it. We had to fill in those forms, too. Haven't had any comparisons back, though. I think that sounds quite useful.

  7. When IJ was an nursery we didn't have parents evenings either. The only way to get to talk to the staff was to make an appointment. I did this and they were always happy to listen to any concerns I had about her learning. There has to be a better way though because if every parent did this they'd be meeting with parents all day, they'd be no time for the children!

  8. I think most preschools and nurseries do have parents' evenings, but it's also fine to ask to make an appointment even if you don't have specific worries or issues, and just want a chat.

  9. Rosie: I was going to make an appointment today, but then when I walked over to the only staff member not dealing with a child/talking to another parent, she started opening the door for me, so I just managed a quick 'She only has wellies today, as she left her shoes at playgroup' and left. Think maybe I'll get Chris to make an appointment!

    Iota: That's it, really. I don't have any worries or concerns, but do just want to find out what she's like there, apart from the occasional 'Oh, she's very friendly.' or 'She's no trouble at all.' and 'She really loves the sand.' Just a bit more.

    If I had real concerns, I wouldn't have a problem talking about them and making appointments, as necessary. It's because I just want a general chat, that I find it difficult. Like I'd be wasting their time.

    I'm really going to have to get this together, because I imagine I'll have to do lots of talking to teachers when she's at school.

  10. We're just looking at pre-schools at the moment - we have three to choose from and he'll start in January. They all seem to have key workers, so I guess I'd ask them about his progress. Right now we have a nanny diary which the nanny and I both scribble furiously in :)

  11. OMG - I have just written the longest comment ever and it just crashed....I think I might even swear! Sooooooooo, as I was saying - the difference between school and nursery is incredible. They have parents' evenings at Edie's nursery where we can go and talk about the work she's done and teh things she's been doing which seems a little strange seeing as she's only two and a half, but it's worth going to. Up until the age of 2 the keyworkers used to fill out 'day sheets' which included what she'd been up to that day, what she'd eaten, etc - even down to how many nappies they had changed! Since the age of 2, they've now been writing all this information on a white board which we can read when we pick her up. And if there are any issues, I just go in to pick her up a bit earlier and talk about it then. School, on the other hand, tells you nothing. I had a complete shock when Renée started since I'd been used to the nursery - but I had no idea what she had done, what she had eaten, who she had played with, etc, if she was having any problems - I felt so frustrated. And then when I asked her at the end of the day she wouldn't talk about it much! But they also have parents' evenings so in terms of what she's learning/how she's coping - we have to wait until then. For us, nursery was much easier...

  12. When I went to pick the kids up from daycare I used to just hang out there for a while and chatted to the staff while I watched the kids play. Sometimes I'd end up sitting reading a couple of kids a story. It helped of course that there wasn't a single 'pickup time'. We had the daily sheets from the staff to tell us how the kids' day had gone, but investing that extra time at pickup meant I got a lot more info. Like Maternal Tales, we went into shock when the kids started kindergarten and suddenly we weren't getting daily feedback any more!

    Oh, and good staff will try not to ruin the 'firsts' for you - having seen a child take her first steps, they will say "I really think she's going to be walking soon" so you have the delight of thinking the first steps you see at home really are the first.

  13. When my two where at pre-school/nursery we had a book which got sent home detailing nappy/clothe changes, what they had ate and when, daily activities, sleep times that sort of thing. It was great to be able to write a comment to the staff too. Mostly my kids have been in playgroup/ childminder setting with people I have been friends with and, so far, it has worked well. I have returned to work for 2 days, so the baby (6 months now!!!) is going to my friend, who is a childminder. It works well; she's an experienced mum, I trust her...we text each other through the day.
    It is funny, though, how different kids can be in a different setting. I would teach the most angelic, perfect child who, according to his/her parents, would be a complete terror at home!

  14. MTJAM: I'm sure he'll love it, wherever he goes. Funnily enough, I think both Rosemary's places are supposed to have keyworkers and yet I have no idea who they are. At the playgroup there are only two members of staff, so I think they both know what's going on. I think it's fairly clear that it's my inability to talk to people that's the issue, rather than the settings themselves, though!

    Emily: Interesting that you found nursery easier. It seems the nurseries that take younger children and babies tend to have more procedures set up for communicating with parents. I suppose my problem is I'm not too worried about day-to-day information, just a more general feeling of how and what she's doing there and if she's quieter or as talkative and things like that. I imagine a termly or half-termly parents' evening would be ideal for me. (Rosemary is not very good at telling us what she did. Sometimes she can be really, really talkative and tell us who she played with and what she did, but most of the time it's just 'Nothing' or 'Everything!')

    AA: I've tried going early and they just end up sending her over to me and we leave early! Might work better at playgroup, actually. At the nursery school, a lot of parents pick their children up a bit early, because they have to go and get other children from schools and are not allowed to be late for that, so I think the staff assume you're early because you need to leave early.

    Katherine: Sounds like you've got good things set up. Rosemary went to my mum a lot when she was younger - and still does one morning and one day with her - and she always tries to tell me what they've done and how/what she's eaten and how she's been and things like that when she drops her off. And she'll phone me up later if she's forgotten anything. It's easier to ask friends or relatives about things, I think. (Though it can be difficult to address any problems you have with the way they're doing things!)

  15. We used to have a message book system, but it never seemed to work that well. I used to get called in for a 'chat' to be confronted with a lot of things DD had done but 3 weeks before and no one had told me at the time! She's now Year 1, so now I try and get into class at least 2-3 times a week to check with the teacher than everything is going ok. It's hard but better than not knowing if there is a problem.

  16. I am quite lucky in the fact that the nursery my son goes to is very small, maximum of 15, but often a lot, lot less. So I get plenty of opportunities to chat to, or hear from the nursery staff. They also have a reward system, where they get well done stickers, prompting the parents to ask what for. And certificates for more significant achievements - Max ate all his cucumber and carrot sticks today. Even still they have formal asides for one-on-one feedbacks on your children, a statutory requirement now I beleive. And we will shortly be having our first parents evening.